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‘A California Water Supply Dream’: Record Snowpack Measured In Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe Region

Department of Water Resources
The fourth snow survey of the water year recorded 106.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 51 inches, which is 200 percent of average for this location, 90 miles east of Sacramento in El Dorado County.

California received some good news on Tuesday for the state's water supply: The Sierra Nevada snowpack is well above normal, at 162 percent of average.

This amount of snow is thanks to the more than 30 “atmospheric rivers” that brought storms this winter and spring. Chris Orrock, with the California Department of Water Resources, says the cold storms have helped preserve the snow.

“The snowpack is nice and cold. It's a little different than 2017, where it was warmer winter … and [the snowpack] melted quicker,” Orrock said while reporting measurements at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. His crew found 106.5 inches of snow at the spot.

As it melts and ends up in reservoirs, the snowpack provides about 30 percent of the state's water supply, and water managers use the snowpack-measurement data to plan releases from the state's reservoirs.

Orrock explained that the amount of snowpack this year is significant. “If all the snow in the field we are standing in right now melted right now,” he said on Tuesday while taking measurements, “we would be standing in 51 inches of water.”

He says this is the fourth largest amount of snow in recorded history. The April results are usually a sign of what to expect in spring and summer, including water amounts for farms and cities downstream. But Jon Ericson, chief of the Division of Flood Management, says “with great water supply benefits comes some risk.”

“We have the potential for some minor flooding due to melting snow,” Ericson added.

The early April survey is typically the last one of the year. But DWR officials say that, because of the sheer amount of snow, another will be conducted in May.

DWR director Karla Nemeth called the state’s full reservoirs and robust snowpack “a California water supply dream.”

“However, we know our long-term water supply reliability cannot rely on annual snowpack alone,” she added. “It will take an all-of-the-above approach to build resiliency for the future.”

Nevada is also having a really good snow year, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Jeff Anderson. He took measurements at a site near Mount Rose on Monday and says that snowpack is the fourth-largest in recorded history for the Tahoe Basin.  

“We’ve had two of the four biggest years in the past couple of years, and it’s really interesting to see that side of our snowpack record getting bigger and bigger,” Anderson said.  “But at the same time, we came out of 2012-2015 with some of the lowest snow amounts.”

He says snow could stick around at high elevations into late July or August.

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